My History of Wall Paint–Kathie Hightower


I grew up with white walls. And I wonder now, didn’t everyone back in the 1950’s and 1960’s and 1970’s?

Or was it because we lived in government housing, apartments on military bases where my dad worked civil service. Of course, there were years in Germany when we lived “on the economy” in Germany rentals. Those walls were white too. Likely not the industrial white of military housing but at least a cream color. Neutral.

Then the years of military housing when I was on active duty and the 30 years moving with the military with Greg’s career. Always white walls. I know that for a fact because we always used the very white of toothpaste to fill in the holes from our artwork when we got ready to move and had to get the place ready for inspection before we could move out.

I remember how shocked my military spouse friends and I were when a woman in Bamberg Germany, a neighbor of my friend Holly, painted her military housing walls in vibrant fun colors. “But you will have to repaint them all before you move,” we said. “Yes, I will, but in the meantime, I get to live with what I love,” she responded. She was an artist of course. We liked that concept, but the thought of all that extra work, twice, right when you are taking on the giant overwhelm that each military move meant, seemed too much to us.

I did not ever paint a wall myself until 1999, age 46, when we moved back to our Tacoma house. That house, our first house purchase when Greg was stationed at Ft. Lewis in 1988, did  have one room that was not white. The walls were rose-colored, and even though I didn’t like the color, I didn’t think to paint when we bought the house. I accepted it and decorated around it. Rose futon cover. Rose borders on photos. Why? Too busy to paint? Well, that for sure with both of our workloads. Greg was taking on one of the toughest jobs in his career. I was starting a business, and then, in the interim, I joined a new Army Reserve unit and immediately left for a six-month military course. Just as we were moving in. No time for painting.

But I think it was more than that. We didn’t have the concept of painting walls, taking control, making choices. My parents had never painted any walls all the years I was growing up, likely because we were constantly moving. And mind you, it’s not like we had money to pay others to paint, just no painting. Plus, there was the whole, “You need it to be neutral for resale value.” Always a thought when you move a lot.

So, yes, when I finally painted that Tacoma house, I added a little color, yellow in the kitchen, a sort of taupe upstairs. For the most part I kept to the “neutral for resale” rule. At least I did paint over that rose wall I never liked. In a neutral cream color.

So what finally turned me to color?

Meeting a lot of artists and creative friends while living in Corvallis and Tacoma exposed me to homes full of colorful walls. Even on the outside and the doors. All those examples of people creating the environment they wanted to live in.

I had been creating my own “dream home” book for years. Cutting out magazine photos that appealed to me. My three-ring binder was packed full of images. And yes, many were walls of color. Interior décor full of color. I was attracted to those, not to the many magazine photo shoots of neutral colors, the beige, grey and blues so popular for a time.

When we started planning and creating our coast home, that dream book became the guide. We weren’t thinking “resale” for what we think of as our forever home. We were thinking about how we wanted to live. Soft yellow in the kitchen, a light green in the living room with one maroon wall, Tuscany orange in the hallway, sage green and a red floor and backsplash in one bathroom. And all the reds and oranges my heart desired, in our upholstery, afghans, pillows and rugs and even some appliances. Red dining room chairs. Yellow bar stools. Amber lamps. Orange and red and green “magic light” lanterns.

We love our space. The colors make me happy. And I think, for me anyway, more creative. I’ve even moved from writing non-fiction to fiction. Created a few art pieces. Added color to our outside spaces. Bought an orange car.

And I wonder. Would my life have been any different overall if I’d grown up with color on our walls?


Kathie Hightower is a writer and speaker who settled in Manzanita 15 years ago. An author of nonfiction books, she’s writing her first novel. Cofounder of the Manzanita Writers’ Series, she’s thrilled to see the coastal writers’ community connecting and expanding.